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Charles Travis

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199230334

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199230334.001.0001

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(p.109) 4 Pragmatics

Charles Travis (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

There are two non-equivalent characterizations of pragmatics. Pragmatics (first version) concerns the linguistic phenomena left untreated by phonology, syntax, and semantics. Pragmatics (second version) is the study of properties of words which depend on their having been spoken, or reacted to, in a certain way, or in certain conditions, or in the way, or conditions, they were. There are also two equally non-equivalent characterizations of semantics. Semantics (first version) is, by definition, concerned with certain relations between words and the world, and centrally with those on which the truth or falsity of words depends. Semantics (second version) is defined by this idea: ‘A theory of meaning for a language should be able to tell us the meanings of the words and sentences which comprise that language’. Combing these different ideas yields a substantial thesis: such things as English sentences have statable conditions for truth, and meanings can be given in or by stating these. That might be wrong. Perhaps, as J. L. Austin suggested, questions of truth arise at a different level entirely from that of expressions of a language. Perhaps conditions for truth depend, pervasively, on the circumstances in which, or the way in which, words were produced. If so, then on the second version of pragmatics and the first version of semantics, semantic questions are pragmatic ones; whereas semantics (second version), however it is to be done, would have little or nothing to do with truth conditions. This is called the pragmatic view. This chapter argues that the pragmatic view is the right one; that it is intrinsically part of what expressions of (say) English mean that any English (or whatever) sentence may, on one speaking of it or another, have any of indefinitely many different truth conditions, and that any English (or whatever) expression may, meaning what it does, make any of many different contributions to truth conditions of wholes in which it figures as a part.

Keywords:   meaning, pragmatic view, semantics, language, J. I. Austin

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